Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Tope: My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement in this House. I agree with many of the points that have just been made but I had intended to leave electioneering to a little nearer the date of the election.

The Statement contains no surprises. It was very well trailed. I still find it deeply disappointing. It concentrates much more on what divides us rather than what unites us. I believe that the education world needs more unity now. It also shows that the Government are more concerned with perceived party political advantage--I put the emphasis deliberately on "perceived" because I doubt very much whether it will achieve any party political advantage for them--than they are with a genuine desire to raise standards in partnership with local education authorities and schools.

With grammar schools must come secondary modern schools. They are indivisible and part of the same. There cannot be genuine all-ability comprehensive schools alongside grammar schools which have creamed off those with the greatest abilities. We are talking about a return to 30 years ago, to a time of grammar schools and secondary modern schools. Whatever language is used to dress that up, that is what it means.

Where is the evidence of the great desire for selection? It is said that the grammar schools are over-subscribed. So they are. They are good schools. But every good school--every good comprehensive school--is over-subscribed. The evidence shows not that parents want selection but that parents want good quality education. That is a very important difference.

I ask the Minister one very particular question, which has already been touched on. I want him to say today quite clearly from where the additional resources will come to provide the new grammar schools. Whether they be existing schools converting to grammar status or whether they be new-build schools, where will that money come from and how much will come? If he is

25 Jun 1996 : Column 795

not yet able to give specific answers to those questions, will he today give a cast-iron guarantee that no resources will be taken from schools which choose not to go down the route of selection, and that additional resources do not come from them in order to provide the funds that will be necessary if there is to be an extension of selection? If that were to happen, they would be doubly penalised and the Government would stand truly condemned.

Lord Henley: My Lords, the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, are somewhat extraordinary. To accuse my right honourable friend and this party of U-turns on the subject of education is a bit rich coming from the party opposite. I do not know whether the noble Lord is Old Labour, New Labour, Very Old Labour or somewhere in between. I do know that there are some fundamental splits in the Labour Party on the subject of education. I can assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment are at one on this and are at one on the subject of employment.

Can the noble Lord give me exactly the same assurance about the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the other place and Mrs. Harriet Harman? Can he assure us that they agree absolutely on the rights of parents to send their children to the schools that they wish? No, he cannot. Quite simply, the party opposite has adopted a policy of total and utter hypocrisy. It is a policy which admits--we heard it from the spokesman for education in the other place--that the comprehensive experiment has failed. It is a policy which then says that we must go on and have yet have more comprehensivisation. As sure as eggs is eggs, the only truly comprehensive system one can have that is totally comprehensive--the one which the party opposite seek--would remove all choice and all diversity, and possibly bring back bussing as well. The party opposite is pursuing a policy of hypocrisy. It is a policy which demands more comprehensivisation but which at the same time allows selection for those children lucky enough to be born to Members on the Front Bench in the other place.

The attempts by the noble Lord opposite to misrepresent the views of my right honourable friend were totally unfair and rather uncharacteristic of the noble Lord. I shall remind him of what my right honourable friend said on the radio this morning when talking about her experience as a councillor in Norfolk:

    "The point is that while many comprehensives do a first-class job and many are in Norfolk, the Government's reforms have now proved that different kinds of schools within the state system are popular and help to drive up standards; and also that the whole thrust of our policy, as opposed to the policy that we were obliged to adopt in the '70s, is to allow schools to decide just what they want to do".

The noble Lord raised a number of questions and made a number of points. He concentrated on part of the White Paper and spoke solely about the provisions relating to selection. There was no mention of his views about the extension of local management to LEA schools, a policy which is hotly opposed by the party opposite but no doubt, now that it has done another of

25 Jun 1996 : Column 796

its U-turns, one that it will support. No doubt this will be yet another policy that it will strongly oppose but come round to support in due course.

I shall deal with the three points made by the noble Lord and touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in turn. First, if there is a proposal to have a grammar school in every town, how will that come about? Perhaps I can make it clear to the noble Lord--I recommend that he reads the White Paper--that there is no proposal to have a grammar school in every town. We are looking to offer new freedoms to schools to make decisions about whether they wish to become selective, partially selective or selective in one way or another. We are not going back to the old grammar school-secondary modern divide. As my right honourable friend made clear in the Statement, we are looking to much greater diversity in the variety and types of school on offer. We are not only looking at the 11-plus; we are looking also at other methods by which it may be possible for schools to consider selection by either ability or aptitude.

The noble Lord referred to an alleged cost of £2 billion--the noble Lord, Lord Tope, touched on it also. I utterly reject that figure. There is no cost of £2 billion in the proposal. We are looking at ways in which schools themselves can seek to change their status because of the desires of parents in that locality. There may, on occasion, as there always has been, be a need for demographic reasons to create new schools. In that case the LEA or the FAS can make proposals. But we are not looking at a new bill of £2 billion.

The final point raised by the noble Lord was in relation to an alleged lack of demand and lack of desire on the part of parents for any more selection. I remind your Lordships of an opinion poll that appeared earlier this year. I am not one who bases all my faith on opinion polls, as some do. I understand that they are frequently wrong, as the party opposite discovered to their discomfort four-and-a-half years ago. On this occasion it may be worth reminding noble Lords of the results of a poll which showed that the majority of the population and, more importantly, a majority of parents favour a greater degree of selection. I shall give noble Lords further details of that in due course if desired.

The important point is that we are not seeking to impose anything on the schools, on the LEAs, or whatever. We are looking to the schools themselves, should they so wish, to move on to a greater degree of selection. I conclude by saying that I regret the limited response we had from the noble Lord. No doubt we will have further opportunities to debate these matters in due course. I remind him again that selection is not just the old grammar school-secondary modern school split that he seemed to imply; it is not just selection by the 11-plus. It is a whole range of things offering choice and diversity to parents, and it is that choice and diversity which we believe will lead to the higher standards we desire in our education system.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, before the Minister sits down perhaps I can remind him that there is one question which both the noble Lord,

25 Jun 1996 : Column 797

Lord Tope, and I asked which slipped his mind in the heat of his passion. The Minister did not respond to the question: where is the money coming from?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I dealt with that question when I referred to the alleged cost of £2 billion. I said that there was no such cost. The educational system will continue to be funded by the taxpayer with the record amounts that we have made available to it over the years under a Conservative Government. That will continue to happen and it will be for the appropriate authorities to suggest new schools as and when they are needed. We are not talking about a massive bill for a vast number of new schools; we are looking at schools changing their status as they wish.

5.4 p.m.

Lord Glenamara: My Lords, in the middle of this White Paper which the Secretary of State cobbled together is a proposal to reintroduce selection in pursuit of the Prime Minister's stated objective of having a grammar school in every town. That is the purpose of the White Paper. If the noble Lord was a little older he would remember what happened when we had selection before. The White Paper is putting the clock back 40 years with a vengeance.

The noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, and I remember the utter misery caused throughout this country by selection. I have known parents who dared not leave their homes for weeks after the results came out because their children had failed the 11-plus. One could say that it was not a case of pass or fail until one was blue in the face. Every parent in the country believed it was a case of pass or fail.

I had the privilege of being the headmaster of a large and very good secondary modern school at that time. Every year I had an influx of a large number of excellent boys every one of whom came to me believing that he was a failure. That is what happens when we introduce selection in a locality. Whether or not it is left to the parents or the governors, if the policy is followed--thank goodness it will not be--throughout the country, in every town, in Cumbria and elsewhere, there would be a grammar school selecting by ability and 80 per cent. or even 85 per cent. of the children who go to the other schools believing that they are failures.

It must be part of the Government's death wish to put this proposal forward six months before an election believing that it will win them support. I can tell them that it will cost them hundreds of thousands of votes. They are already 30 points behind in the public opinion polls. This will put them 40 points behind. It is a disgraceful proposal. It fills me with anger and dismay that this "lot" here who are so discredited and who for months have been way behind in the public opinion polls bring forward this proposal to put the clock back by 30 or 40 years. We have lived through it, and we do not want the next generation to do so. My only consolation is that this lot will be swept out of office lock, stock and barrel long before the proposal can be put into operation.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page